Sri Lanka's former strongman calls for snap elections

Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, center, is greeted by supporters upon arrival at his office to address the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. Former strongman Rajapaksa called for snap parliamentary elections after the party he fielded as a proxy swept local elections over the weekend in a major blow to the reformist government elected just three years ago. Rajapaksa said that the government had lost its mandate to govern and that the people must be given a chance to elect a new parliament. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Sri Lanka's former strongman calls for snap parliamentary elections after the party he fielded as a proxy swept local elections in a major blow to the reformist government elected just 3 years ago

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's former strongman called Monday for snap parliamentary elections after the party he fielded as a proxy swept local elections in a major blow to the reformist government elected just three years ago.

Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the government had lost its mandate to govern and that the people must be given a chance to elect a new parliament.

According to unofficial results, the Rajapaksa-backed Sri Lanka People's Front, won more than 230 local councils out of the 341 that were up for grabs on Saturday.

"People have given a clear message: This government has no mandate ... and no moral right to continue," Rajapaksa said. "The government should listen to what the people are saying."

National elections aren't required until February 2020 and it would take two-thirds of Parliament to vote in favor of an early election.

The government did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Rajapaksa's call for early elections. The United National Party, a partner in the ruling coalition, said it accepted the local election result "with a bowed head" and would take it as a warning to work harder to meet the people's needs.

Rajapaksa, who unexpectedly lost the 2015 presidential election, said the people want him back because the government is considering a new constitution that would share power with ethnic minority Tamils and sell state assets.

Rajapaksa ruled Sri Lanka for nine years beginning in 2005 and had widely been expected to win an unprecedented third term in the 2015 poll. He'd built up immense power and was popular among the country's majority ethnic Sinhalese after overseeing the military's brutal defeat of ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war. Some supporters even hailed him as a king and a savior.

But he was increasingly criticized for failing to allow an investigation of alleged war crimes by the military, while also facing mounting allegations of corruption and nepotism. He lost the election to his own Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena after he launched his own last-minute campaign.

Rajapaksa's followers accuse Sirisena's government of betraying the country and the military by promising an independent investigation into alleged wartime atrocities by both the military and the rebels, as demanded by the United Nations. Those who oppose such an investigation say the U.N. is meddling in Sri Lanka's sovereign affairs.

Rajapaksa's followers also criticize Sirisena's government of selling national assets to foreign countries including the leasing of a sea port to China for 99 years.

Sirisena's government was elected on a platform of good governance but its image was marred in 2015 by a scandal at the central bank, which led to the resignation of a key minister.

Although Rajapaksa does not hold any post in the party that contested Saturday's polls, he is considered the de-facto leader and was the main speaker at the election rallies across the country.

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